Tourism inclusivity during a pandemicThursday, October 21, 2021
World Tourism Day 2021 was celebrated globally on September 27 under the theme 'Tourism for Inclusive Growth'. This day is meant to increase awareness of the importance of tourism and how it affects all aspects of life.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) explains that inclusive growth is intended to ensure that no one is left behind while the world fights the novel coronavirus pandemic. One would have thought that this phenomenon would have been long gone, but it has been almost two years since the onset of the crisis.
Can tourism contribute to the mission of inclusive growth during this pandemic era?
The industry optimists believe that tourism can drive inclusive growth at this time, and is best suited because it generates one in every 10 jobs globally. Having a large composition of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) also makes it ideal for inclusive growth.
However, these indicative measures for inclusive growth were before the pandemic. Now, many tourism workers have lost their jobs and the MSMEs are at their most vulnerable due to reduced business or the possibility of closure. They have joined the realists who are feeling the full effects of the pandemic, which has left people in rural communities across the globe unemployed as they would otherwise have received a daily income from tourism activities. These workers are among the daily wage earners.
Consequently, the pandemic has forged people into poverty, predominantly absolute poverty, where household income is so low that it cannot maintain the basic necessities of living — food, shelter, and clothing. Recall that these are also identified by Abraham Maslow, American psychologist, as the basic physiological needs of human beings, the satisfaction of which, or lack thereof, will ultimately determine behaviour.
There should be no surprise if relative poverty is also on the increase. This is measured by household incomes being 50 per cent or less below median incomes in a given society. There are over 700 million people in the extreme poverty classification, representing approximately 10 per cent of the 7.9 billion world population — a figure too high. This certainly will further marginalise the already vulnerable groups and communities — women, youth, differently abled, the aging population, and those classified as minorities.
Tourism's contribution to inclusive growth cannot happen without inclusive tourism. This seems paradoxical and may conjure counterarguments amongst readers.
Inclusive tourism takes into consideration both the supply and demand sides of the business of tourism. Inclusive growth can only occur when all actors/players/stakeholders are included. The supply side speaks not only to economic gains, but also to the measures that are in place to reduce or prevent the psychosocial and psychological effects of the pandemic that are resulting in pandemic fatigue, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder among other health and mental conditions.
Employees in the industry are requiring that attention is given to the details of diversity, equity, motivation, and inclusivity. They want to be in the know, participate in policymaking, have a voice in decisions, and empowered and less marginalised.
The demand side is expecting more than a welcoming smile. They are looking out for adaptation to new health and safety realities to avoid infection or reinfection, security measures to allow for peace of mind, technological innovation, consumer confidence, and comfort and experiential services to all culminate into a positive travel experience despite the pandemic. They, too, are looking out for motivation and inclusivity, as well as diversity and equity.
All these expectations from both sides of the business of tourism call for modified work protocols, inclusivity of employees, adaptability to new technologies, as well as product innovation and creativity. Response to these new travel motivators can differentiate one destination from another. In addition, these are considerations for new brand-building initiatives.
Despite the uncertainties of this pandemic, there remain possibilities and opportunities for the tourism industry to employ inclusive tourism and, consequently, contribute to inclusive growth.
Records show that, so far 2020 has been the worst year of the pandemic as 2021 is showing signs of rebound in all tourism activities. It is believed that the novel coronavirus can become endemic, and exist for years to come. Normal may not return, hence the need to adapt to the 'new normal', especially since tourism is amongst the most vulnerable economic activities, particularly for tourism-dependent nations.
Scholars are predicting that tourism can be transformed into “a new global economic order”. This would be built on the premise of sustainable tourism, society's well-being, climate action, and involvement of the local communities. For this reason, 'Tourism for Inclusive Growth' requires inclusive tourism to include all stakeholders — supply and demand sides of the business. This is to be underpinned with critical humanitarian principles, such as impartiality and unity; and human values to include respect, trust, fairness, honesty and justice.
With this said, the follow-up question is: Will tourism be able to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030? This time period is approximately eight years from now and, as predicted, global tourism will not fully rebound until the year 2023. Based on assumptions, I am proposing that the novel coronavirus pandemic will have both mediating and moderating effects on this ultimate goal. COVID-19 is likely to mediate the contribution of tourism to the SDGs in both a positive and negative way and it is likely to moderate the contribution of tourism to the SDGs by changing the way the industry would have contributed to the achievement of the SDGs by 2030. What are your views?
Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh is associate professor, College of Business and Management, University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com